So Long, Diver

Brenna R. Singman

The little device dropped against the surface of the ocean. Foamy waves sloshed over the thin, jointed tubes that branched from beneath the bulbous squared hood in the center. A thin sheet like chiffon cascaded around the stiff legs and cupped the water to weigh the machine down. The tubes jerked into action, undulating and propelling the device as it sank below the water. The sheet stiffened to collect water faster along one side, and the entire device tipped until the head of the central metal canister faced the heart of the ocean. The tube casing clicked as it released a series of conical lenses on the bottom of each whipping tentacle. Only the sharp point of the camera peaked out. A small red light bloomed in the center, and it began recording.

As the ocean darkened away from the surface, the sensors on the pinpoint cameras switched from their default to heavy low-light scans. Now it detected small schools of fish swirling around like twinkling diamonds against the small flashes as a section of tentacle lenses zoomed, focused, and captured a still to be collected for later observation. Further down, the device captured beautiful coral reefs and even a few sleek shark breeds feasting in a cloud of red. It also caught an extensive fissure along the seafloor, nearly blocked by overhanging rock outcroppings. The tentacles propelled the robot 90 degrees down into the fissure.

The chasm was less than fifty yards across. The robotic tendrils snapped stiff, leaving only the last few inches spinning. It bobbed and weaved around jagged stones and swirling flora along the cliff face as it followed the path, seeking a floor to the undersea ridge. Before it could release a sonar chime, a shadow rocketed past, and the wiggling machine paused. The cameras buzzed as they protruded further from the jointed legs and shifted from their intense low-light visual scans to a full sonar reading. Deep within the framework, weak images in greens and dark blues displayed and were recorded, but they could be determined as nothing more than small aquatic animals and one side of the ridge. Lowering its alert status, the machine resumed.

Finally it emerged from the miles long rigid chasm into an unexpectedly open space. The machine switched its sensors back to their heaviest low-light setting. It captured a large reef, still too dark to fully differentiate the color of the coral. It dropped to the seafloor, and upon closer inspection, the reef shone with glittering navy blues and royal purples. As the bot motored forward, it suddenly rocked off course as the water shunted it aside. It spun lazily before regaining control. The jointed legs stretched out and revved wildly in every direction, picking up any sight of an attacking creature, but the plentiful shadows could hide anything.

The robot rocketed forward along the tips of the sparkling reef, keeping two of its camera tentacles flapping and recording. It veered to one side as something burst from a shadow, some form in the dark seeming to reach for it before disappearing out of the camera's sights faster than the little machine could follow. As one of the spying tentacles rolled around, the machine stopped short. Something blocked the whizzing joint. Then the other. The back legs propelled uselessly.

Then with a jolt and snap, the cameras went offline.

"No! C'mon!" Bart exclaimed. He smacked at the handheld screen that buzzed with static. His robot's mechanisms were programmed for enough agility to avoid any aquatic creature. Nothing could move that fast!

"Contestant 32 is disqualified!" a voice blared from a distant megaphone near the stern of the ship. "The robot is unresponsive!"

"Sucks for you, Bart the Fart!" a boy snickered from a few seats down on the shared bench. Then he turned back to his own screen that captured live feed of a blue-hued scene.

Bart wanted to shout his rage and punch the kid beside him, but he simply sighed and leaned his head against the steadily rocking ship's railing. He had spent years perfecting his robot through all of these competitions. This was supposed to be his year. He and Cubo, his perfect robotic box jellyfish, would reach the lowest depths before anyone else! But it was all for nothing because of some kink in the mechanics. Bart would have to work on steering maneuvers for Cubo to avoid whatever hid in those depths. He would have nightmares about that shadow for months.

A hand patted Bart's shoulder. He looked up to see his father smiling at him. The other contestants had gone under the deck long ago when the competition had ended. The sun was setting beyond the bow of the ship now, and his father nudged his head back towards the deck.

"Enjoy some food. You did really well. And you'll take it all next year."

Bart forced his own smile. "Thanks, Pop. Just gotta grab my stuff."

His dad walked ahead. Bart gathered his bag of devices, but he jumped as he felt a splash of cold water hit his back. When he looked up, a female face was staring at him, half hidden by soggy dark locks. Her skin was slick with water and some unnatural looking shimmer of jewel tones under the fair skin. She slapped a wet arm over the rail, and a little robotic jellyfish plopped down onto the deck. A large bite mark scarred the bulbous central canister.

"Sorry," she said in a gurgling voice. She waved and leaped away from the ship, doing a backwards dive into the water. Bart ran to the edge, but only caught a glimpse of her retreating shadow.

"Bart, you coming?" his dad called out.

Bart gaped, looking back and forth between his father, his robot, and the water. He snatched up the robot and tucked it into its carrier. He would have to comb through the video footage. He might get a whole different prize!